NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Study Confirms Medical Errors Are Being Made

December 16, 2002

About 7 percent of physicians and 10 percent of the general public claim that someone in their family has died as the result of preventable errors in their medical care, according to a study conducted recently by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Here are some excerpts:

  • Some 12 percent of doctors and 17 percent of the public reported that they or a relative had suffered a medical error serious enough to cause them to lose time from school or work.
  • In all, 35 percent of physicians and 42 percent of the public said they had experienced a medical error themselves -- or had one affect a family member.
  • Eighteen percent of physicians and 24 percent of the public said the errors had serious consequences.
  • Physicians blame the errors on shortages of nurses, and overworked, stressed or fatigued health-care workers.

But the public sees it somewhat differently. While also acknowledging the role of fatigue and the shortage of nurses, citizens blame doctors for not taking enough time with patients, and lack of teamwork and faulty communications among health-care personnel.

Sources: David Brown, "Checking Up on Medical Mistakes," Washington Post; and Robert Davis, "Doctors Cite Instances of Medical Error," USA Today; both appeared on December 12, 2002.


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